Landscape, Community, Countryside: Linking Biophysical and Social Scales in US Corn Belt Agricultural Landscapes

Atwell, Ryan
Schulte, Lisa
Schulte-Moore, Lisa
Westphal, Lynne
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue

Understanding the interplay between ecological and social factors across multiple scales is integral to landscape change initiatives in productive agricultural regions such as the rural US Corn Belt. We investigated the cultural context surrounding the use of perennial cover types—such as stream buffers, wetlands, cellulosic bioenergy stocks, and diverse cropping rotations—to restore water quality, biodiversity, and ecosystem function within a Corn Belt agricultural mosaic in Iowa, USA. Through ethnographic techniques and 33 in-depth interviews, we examined what was most important to rural stakeholders about their countryside. We then used photo elicitation to probe how interviewees’ assessments of farm practices involving perennial cover types were related to their sense of place. Our interviewees perceived their rural ‘‘countryside’’ as a linked social and biophysical entity, identifying strongly with the farming lifestyle and with networks of people across

the landscape. While most interviewees approved of perennial farm practices on marginal agricultural land, implementation of these practices was neither a priority nor strongly assimilated into rural experience and ethics. We identified three scale boundaries in our interviewees’ perception of place which present key challenges and opportunities for landscape change: landscape-community, individualcommunity, and community-institution. In all cases, community social norms and networks—exhibited at landscape spatial scales—may be instrumental in bridging these boundaries and enabling networks of perennial cover types that span privately owned and operated farms.

<p>This article is from <em>Landscape Ecology</em> 24 (2009): 791, doi:<a href="" target="_blank">10.1007/s10980-009-9358-4</a>.</p>
complexity, Iowa, non-point source pollution, perennial vegetation, restoration, social-ecological systems, water quality